Comfort is Not About Air Temperature, Thermostat #FAIL

I have two thermostats in my home and both are set to the same air temperature of 71. Both are great thermostats and both I love immensely so understand this post is not about bashing a product it is about better understanding the application of the products.

The ecobee 3 Smart Thermostat the coolest thermostat since the last cool thermostat? via ecobee.com

The ecobee 3 Smart Thermostat the coolest thermostat since the last cool thermostat? via ecobee.com

One of my thermostats is an ecobee 3 the other is a REHAU radiant thermostat.

The ecobee 3 is the ‘Jedi Knight’ of thermostats and my REHAU radiant thermostat…. well not so much.

The ecobee 3 is a learning thermostat with wireless sensors that can turn itself on and off whenever I come home or leave. The ecobee 3 provides temperature averaging across my entire home and has HomeIQ which learns how my home heats up and records indoor temperature, outdoor temperature, wind speed, weather and oh so much more to heat my home and save me money every month. The ecobee 3 is in a word cool and thanks to its HomeIQ saves me money on my home heating bill.

The REHAU radiant thermostat? It has a button on the front I push to turn the heat up or down. You definitely wont find any tech bloggers raving about it as the hot new trend in thermostats.

The Dual Sensing REHAU Smart Thermostat wont be winning any design awards anytime soon.

The Dual Sensing REHAU Smart Thermostat wont be winning any design awards anytime soon.

Which stat do you think keeps me the most comfortable? If you guessed my ecobee 3 you guessed wrong.

It is my super simple low-cost dual sensing radiant thermostat from REHAU.

As much as I love my ecobee that does not change the fact that a device that only measures air temperature does not measure the actual thermal comfort of a room.

More significantly and key to this post the ecobee 3 being incredibly smart and sophisticated does not change the fact that its hooked to my gas furnace.

The reason that my REHAU thermostat actually works better is because it is hooked to a radiant infloor heating system. Thermal comfort is determined by 6 factors as noted by HSE, ASHRAE and just about every respected PhD;

  • Air temperature
  • Radiant temperature
  • Air velocity
  • Humidity
  • Your Clothing
  • Metabolism ( how many BTU’s your body is putting off )

My REHAU thermostat is not pretty like my ecobee 3, it does not have an app, it does not log any information that I can remotely access ( which is all a bummer ) but what it does do is cover 2 of the 6 items on what makes us ‘comfortable’.

It allows me to set not only the air temperature but also the floor temperature and by doing so it makes sure that the floor temperature is similar to my body so that when I walk on the floor instead of loosing heat due to a cold surface it is the same temperature or slightly warmer keeping me super comfy.

The floor doesn’t ‘feel warm’ but what it does do is take the cold off the floor and prevent my body from radiating btus into the floor and gives me 2 out of the 6 factors in thermal comfort.

Radiant temperature has a greater influence than air temperature on how we lose or gain heat to the environment. Our skin absorbs almost as much radiant energy as a matt black object…. – HSE

The point of this post is to just point out that yes air temperature is important in keeping us comfortable but make sure you understand the application and more importantly your heating source.

If you are in fact heating with radiant in floor and using an air sensing thermostat you are completely missing the point of radiant heating. My REHAU dual sensing radiant thermostat and floor sensor combo are set typically to 68 degrees air and 80 degree floor and the room is FAR more comfortable than the rest of my drafty house run by my high-tech and awesome ecobee 3.

Dont have radiant? Only have a forced air heating system? Then do what I did and install an ecobee 3. I openly ENCOURAGE it as I have one in my own home but understand your heating system and more importantly what actually controls comfort and if you have a  radiant system use the right thermostat.

For those wondering I hacked my REHAU smart thermostat to give me some cool remote accessibility features because I simply could not help myself. :)

My REHAU smart control monitors supply and return water temperature, BTU output, run time and oh so much more fun stuff!

My REHAU smart control monitors supply and return water temperature, BTU output, run time and oh so much more fun stuff!

Calculating BTU Output of RAUPanel Radiant Floor System

I recently finished installing a REHAU infloor system in my house and ever since I have been on a quest to tweak, improve and learn as much as possible about it.

I chose RAUPanel because the system has been shown in independent tests to outperform any other radiant in floor system. RAUPanel can  deliver up to 32btu’s per square foot on 6″ spacing and 28 btus with 8″ spacing at 110 degree water which in a word is fantastic. (see chart below via Eden Energy)

RAUPanel delivers as much as 50% more BTU’s then the competition which is why I used it in my home. The fact that it is easy to install, involves no concrete and can be done in a day is just gravy.

raupanel-output

As much as a group of ‘researchers’ proved the systems performance I was curious to know just how well my own system was working. So I cracked open my calculator and decided to do some quick math to determine the performance of my RAUPanel heating system.

First off we need to note that my RAUPanel system was installed with 8″ spacing which means that Virgina Tech’s study found the system could deliver in a controlled test 28 BTU’s per square foot at 110 degree water.

Lets start off with the formula for the BTU or ‘heat’ output of a radiant system. It is a pretty simple formula if you know how to do it. It looks like so;

Qo = K(TS-TR)

To break those down.

  • Qo = Heat output from your radiant system
  • K is a constant we need to look up for the material we used which in my case was RAUPanel
  • TS is the fluid temperature in your radiant infloor system
  • TR is the air temperature you want to maintain.
  • To get K we will also need the R value of the floor or the ‘resistance’ value.

Lets get down to the math now shall we ? I am keeping my room at a temperature of 70 degrees. My water temperature on average is 107.5 degrees ( lets call it 107 ) and the Resistance value of my Engineered hardwood floor is 0.63 according to the RPA lookup table.

So now our formula looks like this;

Qo = K(70-107)

How do we finish this formula? We need to figure out what K is and we do that by looking up K on the RAUPanel Table using the temperature of 37 ( 107-70 ) and the R value of .63. You can see how I do this with the table below.

The red lines cross at my R value and the temperature difference between my water and my air.

The red lines cross at my R value and the temperature difference between my water and my air.

Notice on that chart that there are TWO curves on the bottom one for Wall and one for floor. Because I installed my system in the floor and not the walls I drew a straight line from that curve at .63 up to my DELTA T of 37 and I get 22 BTU’s per Square foot.

I have no problem at all heating the rooms with 22 BTU’s per square foot.

Lets talk for a second about the heat source and how RAUPanel impacts that. Boiler efficiency is dictated in part by return water temperature and my return water temperature is 87 degrees. Where does this number come from? My Supply water temperature is 107 and my water temperature delta T is 20 in my system. So that makes my return water temperature 87.

Take that number and now plot it against a condensing boiler to see what that means to overall efficiency. My boiler will be 91 to 97% efficient depending on what firing rate it is on. ( chart via )

Boiler Efficiency on RAUPanelHow to improve the overall efficiency of my RAUPanel system even further.

Virginia Tech’s report showed that a RAUPanel system could deliver 28 BTU’s at 110 degree water and mine fell slightly short so how could I get my BTU output higher?

Right off the bat increasing my water 3 degrees to 110 degree water instead of 107. That in itself would make my K value 40 ( 110 – 70 ) and increase my BTU output to 24 BTU’s per square foot. Small changes can have a huge impact.!

The other thing I could have changed was my choice of floor covering. I used a 5/8ths Engineered Wood because it was the one my wife chose. Had I of used a 1/4″ Engineered floor my R value would drop from .63 to .25. This makes a HUGE difference in the overall BTU output because of the much lower resistance.

Look at the chart below to see how big a difference a much thinner floor makes. I actually outperform the Virginia tech numbers managing over 30 BTU’s per square foot with my original K value of 37 and a floor R value of .25

raupanel btu output resistance changed

Pardon the lines I realize they are not exactly right so use it for general reference only. I am clearly not an Engineer :)

A few key take aways when it comes to a floor heating system and RAUPanel in particular;

  • Even if you do not pay attention to floor coverings you can get 22 BTU’s per square foot of heat as I did.
  • If you do pay attention to floor coverings you can get a significantly higher BTU output.
  • RAUPanel will cost you more up front to install but because it delivers more BTU’s it can save you money each and every month on your heating bill.

Status Update, WiFi Radiant Infloor System

My Radiant infloor system uses RAUPANEL which delivers 32BTU's per square foot at 110 degree water.

My Radiant infloor system uses RAUPANEL which delivers 32BTU’s per square foot at 110 degree water.

About 2 months ago I started dabbling in my spare time building a low-cost, low foot print smart control that will not only monitor my radiant in floor system but also control it.

The system is designed to be VERY low-cost and incredibly tiny making it easy for anyone with a hydronic heating system to control and monitor their hydronic heating system from anywhere in the world.

Two things inspired me to build a Hydronic Smart Control, the first is my love of radiant heating and the second is my passion for the ecobee smart thermostat which is an awesome device. ecobee has inspired me to put my programmer hat on and get the soldering iron out and the result is my very own radiant smart control.

Since my last post I now have my system up and running and monitoring my radiant in floor system. The code is 50% complete and internet monitoring enables me to see what my system is doing at any time but more importantly it gives me the ability to control my system. Features so far;

  • No computer required to run the system
  • Very small footprint ( fits in your palm of your hand )
  • Cloud storage of data through a wifi connection
  • Multi zone monitoring
  • Multi Zone control ( almost complete )
  • Monitoring equipment run time ( almost complete )

The old adage ‘size matters’ means a lot to me with this control. The last photo I posted of the control it was the size of my business card. The new version which I am not ready to share a photo of just yet is now the size of a box of matches and has all the same functionality.

Below you can checkout a screen grab of my online dashboard. I can access my REHAU Radiant in floor system from any smart phone or computer from anywhere in the world. I am currently uploading data on a 5 second interval to the cloud and showing current RAUPanel floor temperature as well as the average temperature over a 24hour period and a graph of the last few hours. ( Edit: Just noticed its saying C and not F for temperature… whoops! That will be fixed shortly! )

RAUPanel Radiant Infloor Smart Control

For those curious RAUPanel delivers up to 32 BTU’s per square foot at 110 degree water making it one of the most efficient heating systems in the world. With my radiant control I can not only see when the system is running and what the temperatures are and turn it on and off but I can also do some basic performance benchmarks to see how well my system works at different water temperatures and flow rates as well as how quickly my house warms up under those conditions.

My ‘Smart’ Wifi Enabled radiant in floor system is I think a cutting edge advancement to hydronic heating that anyone  can afford and use. ( Now if only I could think of a name for it ).

 

How I Stopped WordPress Comment Spam

WordPress Comment Spam is a massive pain in the ass and even those of us who like to think we ‘know what we are doing’ have a serious problem with it. On one of the sites I run I was getting anywhere from 10-50 spam comments a day. Now to be clear they are all properly getting flagged as SPAM but I do not want to spend my Sunday afternoon deleting 1,814 spam messages every few weeks if I can help it.

Fortunately for those reading this I have a solution courtesy of Grant Hutchinson that so far is working spot on with ZERO spam messages sitting waiting to be reviewed or deleted. Considering I normally have thousands ( because of the size of the site ) this is a big leap forward to stopping WordPress comment spam.

Update: It has been 24hours and I still have no spam messages, no complaints of comments not going through and more importantly lots of regular comments clearing. So I definitely still give this a thumbs up.

Grant Hutchinson’s fix is quite simply a list of 12,000 phrases, patterns, and keywords commonly used by spammers and comment bots in usernames, email addresses, link text, and URLs. To implement this SPAM stop for WordPress is quite easy, login to your WordPress site, go to Settings  / Discussion and under comment moderation paste this list of phrases/patterns and kiss your wordpress spam comments good bye!

wordpress comment spam

While you are on your comments page I also encourage you to change the comment hold to make sure it holds all comments with 1 link or more. ( See Screenshot ).

So how good does Hutchinson’s WordPress Spam killing phrases and patterns work? From my short-term tests it has worked fantastic  however, Jason Cosper ran a test on a client WordPress site that had 800,000 spam comments and this fix flagged 40% of them as spam. That may not seem that great but 40% of 800,000 is a serious chunk of spam that will get blocked!

Jason then exported the comments and ran them locally through an Akismet filter and there were ZERO False positives. So for those of you weighing whether you should be buying Akismet or just trying out Hutchinson’s fix. I think its clear that his method is well worth trying. Give it a shot and let me know how it works for you!

TreeHugger.com Cant Figure Out Smart Thermostats?

TreeHugger.com recently wrote an interesting article with the headline ‘We Need Smart Thermostats Because People are Dumb’ and I simply could not let that article go without a response. As well written as the article is I feel it is incredibly wrong when it comes to the technical benefits of smart thermostats and in particular the thermostat that I have installed in my home, the ecobee.

In the TreeHugger article the author implies that people are ‘dumb’ because they overlook more obvious ways to save money and instead choose to spend money on gadgets that cost you more money…. like a smart Thermostat. The Author Sami Grover gives two specific reasons;

a) Why spend money on expensive thermostats when air sealing, insulation and behavior change deliver more bang for your buck?

b) Smart thermostats encourage you to constantly tinker with your temperature settings. In a well-designed house, that may waste more energy than it saves.

Point A is a valid point but one that requires a bit more thinking. First off what does a smart thermostat cost? In the case of an ecobee Smart Si it is on average $160.00. What is the average cost to re-insulate, caulk and seal your home? Nowhere near $160.00. Re-insulating and sealing my house would absolutely make a huge difference in my heating bill but my house is finished top to bottom and I simply can not afford it.

As for which is easier changing my wifes behaviour when it comes to messing with the thermostat or using a smart thermostat that eliminates my wifes desire to tinker I think you know which route I went to avoid my wife divorcing me.

This also leads to the authors second statement that smart thermostats encourage people to ‘tinker with their thermostat settings’ wasting energy instead of saving it. If a thermostat is smart enough users should not have to tinker with it and the only time my wife touches our ecobee is to take advantage of a feature I ridiculed when I first saw it…. she checks the weather.

She isn’t tinkering with the thermostat because the ecobee HomeIQ system keeps our home comfortable all the time. How many times have I tinkered with or changed the thermostat settings of consequence since I installed it? Once when I went to Florida with my family. Smart Thermostats do not encourage you to tinker with them if they are working properly and mine is.

Further to Treehuggers comment on changing behaviour one reason that programmable thermostats get a bum rap is because a study by the EPA showed that of the over 25million programmable thermostats in the USA 50% of them go unprogrammed. Why? Because regardless of how well some manufacturer’s may think they are designed consumers and installers ( speaking from experience ) can not figure out how to set them up and program them. This reason alone is why Smart Thermostats are so important to energy savings for the average homeowner.

Its not a human behavior issue if we don’t know how to setup the program on our thermostat.

The biggest thing that a smart thermostat brings is ease of programming and in turn it is passively altering human behavior and also saving you money. The Honeywell Lyric uses Geofencing to turn your heat and cool off when you get within a few miles of your home eliminating the need to learn how to program the thermostat. The NEST uses a proximity sensor to learn your schedule and heat and cool based on when you are home and my personal favorite the ecobee has a ‘moron proof’ programming guide along with HomeIQ Smart Recovery to make it so that even the most hopeless person can program it.

Smart thermostats are perfect for dumb people or lazy people who do not want to learn how to run a program or setup a thermostat. Are all smart thermostats made equal? Of course not but categorically ruling them out as a complete waste of money is as TreeHugger.com puts it, dumb.

In the case of my ecobee thermostat it can easily pays for itself in a year ( see the numbers here ). Could I have save this money without a smart thermostat? Sure but could the average homeowner? Smart thermostats are not for dumb people they are for people who are not HVAC guru’s and need help saving money the simplest and cheapest way possible with a better stat. A smart thermostat.

Disclaimer: I do not work for ecobee but I love their product ( clearly ) and we offer it in our line up of products at my place of employment. These opinions are mine and mine alone. 

Adding Captions to Sorgalla jCarousel

I recently was tasked to write up a custom homepage carousel for ‘featured’ content on one of the leading gaming sites on the internet. I am not the kind of person who is going to reinvent the wheel and immediately went hunting for a slider that had the base features I needed. There are literally hundreds upon hundreds of sliders but I ended up settling on Sorgalla as the base for my carousel.

Visually JCarousel by Sorgalla is a very slick jquery carousel and the developer did a fantastic job programming it. The only downfall for me was that it was designed to be images only, without links and without captions. The site I am working on is hosted with wordpress and I wanted to use it for a featured slider which includes headers / captions, etc so I had to do some modifications which I am going to share.

Your Sorgalla carousel by default will look like this;

<div class="jcarousel">
<ul>
<li><img src="../_shared/img/img1.jpg" width="600" height="400" alt=""></li>
</ul>
</div>

The above demo code looks like so using the base CSS;

sorgalla jcarousel default

To setup Jcraousel captions in my case I pulled data from WordPress and stored it in the ALT and title field for each image.  So my version of the Sorgalla Carousel code looks like so;

<div class="jcarousel">
<ul>
<li><img alt="caption" title="article-title" src="../_shared/img/img1.jpg" width="600" height="400" alt=""></li>
</ul>
</div>
<div class="image-caption"></div>

Simple right? Using the Sorgalla Jcarousel api I wait for the next ‘targetedin’ image to load and when it does I grab meta data from the image, namely the title and ALT and I then write that data to a DIV called ‘image-caption’.

  $('.jcarousel').on('jcarousel:targetin', 'li', function(event, carousel)
                {
                    var comment = $(this).find('img').attr('alt');
                    var title = $(this).find('img').attr('title');
                    if(comment) $('.image-caption').html('<strong>'+title+'</strong> '+comment);
                });

The final results look like the screenshot below. In my example I also added links using the same method above. Hopefully you find this helpful and will save you pulling your hair out.

sorgalla jcarousel with captions

ecobee Thermostats Improve Employee Productivity by 44%

I am a huge fan of the ecobee product ( we sell them at work ) and think that as far as smart thermostats go they have the industry figured out. They may not get all the press that NEST does but the ecobee has some of the most innovative logic built into it when it comes to smart thermostats.

ecobee has HomeIQ which they describe as the following;

home-iq-detailsOver the last 3 years, ecobee has collaborated with some of the brightest scientists in the field of energy conservation to develop this unique and innovative service.

Home IQ takes thousands of data points, automatically collected through your ecobee thermostat, and uses advanced math and physics to create a model that learns about your home, and provides you with insights into your home’s energy performance.

Unlike alot of other so called smart devices the ecobee collects 18 months of data which includes run time of the equipment, stages of operation, weather conditions, wind speed and so much more .They use this data in HomeIQ to heat your home and that kind of data makes for one heck of a smart thermostat.

This translates into savings but this kind of data collection also makes the ecobee very efficient at heating and cooling and keeping us more comfortable. The ecobee knows in YOUR building specifically how long it takes to heat and cool. All of these cool as beans features have resulted in a common slogan when it comes to ecobee which is as follows;

‘ecobee can save you up to 28% on your heating and cooling bill’

As cool as that slogan is and as much as I love putting money back in my wallet I have a new slogan that is sure to set the ecobee commercial thermostat market on fire;

‘ecobee thermostats improves employee productivity by up to 44%’

I know a few of you are now saying yep you just made that up. Kinda but not really. I dont have a study that shows an ecobee specifically makes you more efficient but I do have a study that shows that a thermostat just like it will increase employee efficiency.

Cornell University Researchers did a study where they looked at the thermostats in an insurance office and what they discovered is that employees who were not cold in the office made 44% more errors and were half as productive as when they were ‘comfy’.  Cornell Researchers note that the drop in temperature in the winter causes our bodies to waste energy keeping ourselves warm giving us less energy for inspiration, concentration and just getting things done. Quote;

“At 77 degrees Fahrenheit, the workers were keyboarding 100 percent of the time with a 10 percent error rate, but at 68 degrees, their keying rate went down to 54 percent of the time with a 25 percent error rate,” Hedge says. “Temperature is certainly a key variable that can impact performance.”

 

Some of you will rightfully ask can’t any thermostat keep you comfy? Sure it can if your office actually gives you access to it. Why have they not given you access? because Handy Hank keeps jacking the heat up and driving up the heating bills. Or better yet Jetpack Jim keeps trying to tweak it forcing you to call in the HVAC tech and a hefty bill to undo the changes.

Smart thermostats are the future and keeping employee’s comfy with devices like an ecobee clearly make a difference. I am going to stop turning down the ecobee thermostat in our office effective immediately which will increase our office productivity!

NOTE:  this post is intended for entertainment. Although the study really did happen don’t take my summations of ecobee being the only solution to seriously :) Also note I do not work for ecobee but I am open to offers.